Is addiction a choice or is addiction a disease? As the opioid epidemic continues to rise, this topic has become more and more controversial. In all honesty, both sides are correct in some ways. Now you may be thinking, how could both sides be right when they have opposing views? Great question. Let’s take a moment and look at each side of the debate and then you can decide where you stand.
First, let’s look at the argument that addiction is a choice. There is research supporting the idea that addiction is considered a behavior; therefore, it is something that we choose to do. The choice theory poses that if a person chooses to take an opioid (i.e. Percocet, heroin, oxycodone, etc.), then with enough motivation a person can choose not to consume opioids. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Yes, it is true that a person may choose to initially orally ingest, snort, or inject opioids. And yes, it is also true that a person may be motivated to abstain from opioids for a day. But if this were purely a choice, why would people continue to use despite knowing that they could lose their jobs, families, and even their lives? Addiction often does start out as an initial choice of behavior but that does not mean that the choice doesn’t develop into something more, which brings me to the next argument, addiction is a disease.
Dr. Kevin McCauley once described addiction to be a “disease of choice.” I like this definition because the impacts that addiction has on someone impact their abilities to make choices. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking use, despite harmful consequences.” Over the years, research has shown that there are neurological impacts of addiction and these can be seen through scans of the brain. Don’t believe me? Here is an image that shows some of the ways our brains can be impacted by consuming a substance over time.
Now you have heard both sides of the argument. Is addiction a choice? Is addiction a disease? Is addiction a little bit of both? Honestly, this will probably continue to be debated over the years despite the neurological evidence classifying addiction as a disease. But one thing that is not up for debate is that addiction is a serious issue going on in Ohio. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2016 over 100 people in the United States died daily from opioid related overdoses; 8 of those deaths occur daily in Ohio.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, do not wait to become a part of that statistic. Reach out to family, friends, and the Fairfield County ADAMH Board Network of Care Agencies to find local resources that can help you and/or a loved one today: www.fairfieldadamh.org/service-providers.html.